Saturday, February 20, 2010

End of the Seven Years of Famine: I Got a Job!

After getting laid off seven years ago (exactly seven years ago!), I have worked as an engineering consultant, I have taught school, I have been involved in several abortive startups, and I have taken several temporary jobs. As the economy slowly recovers, I have been chasing a full-time job with a large semiconductor manufacturer. The chase has come to an end, but not in the way I expected. This is the full story.

WARNING! THIS WILL BE VERY BORING TO SOME OF YOU. But it may be useful to some others.

Okay, you have been warned.

In late 2008, I worked for 3 months at a small company in Fort Collins, called RLE Technologies. It was a great place to work: great people, a great management team, and a solid product line and business plan. I was working a temporary contract as a technical writer, but we had several discussions about my ambition to move into to a permanent engineering position.

Then the economy fell apart, and their sales projections for 2009 didn't justify adding another engineer. So I gave them good work until my contract ended, and we parted on good terms. I stayed in touch with the management team.

A year later, around Thanksgiving 2009, I got another temporary contract, this time with Micron Technology in Longmont -- formerly Displaytech, a small, successful company that had recently been acquired by Micron. I was working as a firmware engineer. I came home every evening full of excitement -- I told my family that I didn't know whether it was because "I'm working!" or because the work I was doing was that much fun.

As a large corporation, Micron is a great company to work for. Consciously or not, they are an "excellent company" in the model of Peters and Waterman's 1982 study. They treat their employees well. They seek to excel in every market they enter. They have entered several new markets -- CMOS image sensors, microdisplays, LED illumination and personal computers, among others -- without straying far from the things they do best: memory chips.

As a division, the Longmont office is a great place to work. Displaytech became very successful at making high-resolution, full-color computer displays smaller than a postage stamp. Their next success will be in picoprojectors: high-resolution, battery-powered, full-color projectors that fit inside an iPod or cellphone and project video anywhere. (At a recent conference, Micron used a flour tortilla as a projection screen.)

This division is composed of a group of people who are intelligent, excited about what they are doing, hard-working, easy to get along with, and, umm, well, really smart. Everybody shows up in the morning quietly enthusiastic and ready to go, and they work hard until it's time to go home -- sometimes later. It's not competition, just excitement.

I loved being a part of that. I completed my project ahead of time, and my co-workers were delighted with my work. I had made it clear that I'd like to stay there longer. Management added several extensions to my contract and found me other projects to work on. We were all trying to find a way to keep me there permanently.

They connected me with a manager in Boise who might have a couple of firmware openings. We met briefly one Friday when he was in Longmont, and then traded a few short emails before ... well, let's jump ahead to Thursday, February 18.

At 9 a.m., I had a phone meeting with the manager in Boise. He asked me to email him my resume, and two hours later, I was in a job interview with one of his people who just happened to be in Longmont. The interview went well, things were looking hopeful, and my friends at Micron shared my excitement.

That afternoon, I drove to Fort Collins. The recruiter who had gotten me into Micron also represented RLE Technologies, and RLE had asked him to arrange a meeting with me. The recruiter gave me the impression that it was a job interview. Wow, two interviews in two days.

The "interview" turned out to be a meeting with the management team, but not really an interview. RLE had survived 2009, and as 2010 began, they had found that several of their departments had more work than one person could do, but not enough work for two people. They had decided that they needed someone who was versatile and flexible, an engineer who could wear many hats. They contacted my recruiter, who gave them my name, and ... well, they were offering me a position at RLE Technologies. After an hour of talking with them, I accepted their offer.

Honestly, I could be happy at either place. Both are small, successful entities with good people and bright futures, where I can make a difference. That I ended up at RLE rather than Micron was just a matter of timing. I am content.

My contract with Micron ends on Wednesday, February 24, and I start with RLE Technologies on Monday, March 1.

Lessons I've learned while being unemployed:
  • First: Pick a few good recruiters, and stay in regular touch with them. Phone them weekly, just to say hi. This will keep you on the top of their list. I got this advice from Bob Zoller, a friend and former member of NoCoNet. I tip my hat to Rose Marie Studer ("Studer the Recruiter"), Jackie Avitia and Ray Brown (Volt), Angie Joynt and Chris Palm (Aerotek), and all the rest of them.
  • Actively involve yourself in multiple networks and professional societies. Be the "rainmaker" who passes job leads back and forth between your networks. Networking isn't a sterile exercise, and it isn't formulaic or algorithmic: it's being a friend and helping your friends to get jobs. Good things happen to you when you do this.
  • Follow up!
  • Never, EVER burn your bridges.
  • Keep in touch with old bosses and co-workers.
  • Sitting at home in front of a computer will not get you a job. Get on the telephone. And get out of the house.
  • You HAVE TO tap into the hidden job market.
  • Don't give up. This won't last forever. Find your anchor and hold on to it tightly, whether it be family, friends, or faith. You WILL make it through.
Links that some people may find useful:
"For the Record" - my previous posting about the job hunt
NoCoNet - Northern Colorado's premier network for job-seeking professionals
Micron Technology and Micron's Microdisplay Division
RLE Technologies
One of my startups
Rose Marie Studer - one of the best recruiters in the business
Volt Technical - an excellent recruiting firm for temporary and permanent positions
Aerotek - another excellent recruiting firm for temporary and permanent positions
SOS Staffing - another recruiting firm. They have a rather tough client in the Weld County, so I can't say whether or not they're "excellent." But my sister works for them in another state, so for that reason alone I'd say they're pretty darned good.
Larimer County Workforce Center - a government agency that actually does something useful! (Maybe I should write about them another time.)

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